Tag Archives: canlit

One of Most Well-Crafted Reads of 2018 | Review of “I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter” by David Chariandy (2018) McClelland & Stewart

 

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There is no doubt that many of us feel anxiety about the future. Everything from the rise of populist leaders to the rise of the costs of the items that we need to exist can cause our blood pressure to ‘rise ‘ (Then add to our health to the list of things to be anxious about.) Yet we still want our younger loved-ones to have some confidence for their future. David Chariandy has felt those same fears and desires when he considered his daughter and her future and has brilliantly shared those views in his new book I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter.

Pages 9-10 The Occasion

But I find myself wondering just when a child begins to dwell in that place of tomorrow. I wonder, most often, about your life in the place of today, and what you have already seen and heard, have already understood and been made to feel. I wonder if there are moments, despite your tough postures, when you have felt neither confident nor safe. I wonder about the persistent message sent to girls in the news, in movies, in language and image, and in the rhetoric of politics and business, especially girls who share your ancestry but who have not had your special opportunities. I wonder about the electronic “tomorrow” that you are already navigating in your basement room, when at night you peer into a screen and the world casts its lurid energies upon your brown face.

This slim volume is the most profound cultural artifact that I have encountered this year. Its 120 pages are filled with personal and emotional thoughts that Chariandy was kind enough to craft into a book and share with the world. He takes some personal moments with his daughter that are heart-wrenching (A moment where a father/daughter visit to a buffet is ruined when a bigoted patron butts her way in front of him and remarks “I was born here. I belong here.” Or the joyful events of his daughter’s thirteenth birthday being grimly overshadowed by bitter politics and the Inauguration of President Donald Trump) Chariandy has given us serious readers a voice to confirm our concerns about the state of the world.

Pages 51-52 The Test

You did not create the inequalities and injustices of this world, daughter. You are neither solely nor uniquely responsible to fix them. If there is anything to learn from the story of our ancestry, it is that you should respect and protect yourself; that you should see, truly see, the vulnerability and the creativity and the enduring beauty of others, in the desperate hope for a better life, either migrate or are pushed across the hardened borders of nations and find themselves stranded in unwelcoming lands. We live in a time, dearest daughter, when the callous and ignorant in wealthy nations have made it their business to loudly proclaim who are the deserving “us” (those really “us”) and who are the alien and undeserving “them.” But the story of our origins offers us a different insight. The people we imagine most apart from “us” are, oftentimes, our own forgotten kin.

A reader can sense the quiet thought and crafted tone in this book that Chariandy has down in his previous novels. He is reflecting on his reality and the reality of his daughter and giving a us all a unique perspective to consider. It is a book that isn’t all preachy doom and gloom but it isn’t a book that is sunshine a rainbows either. It documents a reality that is in flux and needs to be considered and reflected upon.

Pages 107-109

You are a complex girl, my daughter. For some of my friends back east, your preferences for sushi and skiing and jackets of Gore-Tex instantly identify you as a “Vancouverite.” Your mother once, much to my dismay, pronounced you a “camper.” And for a short while, you yourself like the term “tomboy,” with is promised alternative to the categories of “girl” and “boy.” For some of my relatives, you are Black; for others you are Indian. And as a girl of African, South Asian, and European heritage, some may consider you still another identity, that of being “mixed.” Sometimes there is unfair privilege in being mixed, and of thereby avoiding certain degrees of prejudice simply because you might be lighter skinned that other Black or South Asian girls. Other times, there is a foolish denigration associated with being mixed. Of course, as you prove abundantly, there is beauty in being mixed; and I have heard some well-wishing folk proclaim people like you the happy future for humankind, imagining that racial prejudice will come to an end when everyone, through countless inter-mixing, achieves the same features and tone of brown. Forgive me dearest one, but I don’t share this hope. The future I yearn for is not one in which we will all be clothed in sameness, but one in which we will finally learn to both read and respectfully discuss our differences.

And you are a Canadian too, an identity that contains a specific story, promotes specific benefits and ideals, as well as specific illusions and blindnesses. Not so long ago in Canada’s history, a girl like you might very well have been denied citizenship, security, and belonging. As your father, I wonder about the extent to which you can now envision a just future for yourself here. My question is far from unique in the world today, and it links you to young visible minorities in the U.S. and Britain, Australia and Germany, and many other countries.

David Chariandy has proved himself a truly gifted and enlightened writer by sharing his book  I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter with the world. It is an emotional and well-crafted read and no doubt, one of my favourites reads of 2018.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter

Link to my review of David Chariandy’s Brother

Link to my review of David Chariandy’s Soucouyant

A Novel that Gives Readers Definitions to Complex Social Ills | Review of “Brother” by David Chariandy (2017) McClelland & Stewart

Brother

There are terms that social scientists and politicians throw around to describe our society and it’s illnesses. But those terms are meaningless if one cannot understand what those terms truly mean. A good piece of literature should create empathy to a social situation with it’s readers and create a better consciousness about our society. And that is what David Chariandy has done with his novel Brother.

Page 1

Once he showed me his place in the sky. That hydro pole in a parking lot all weed-broke and abandoned. Looking up, you’d see the dangers of the climb. The feeder lines on insulators, the wired bucket called a pole-pig, the footholds rusted bad and going way into a sky cut hard by live cables. You’d hear the electricity as you moved higher, he warned me. Feel it shivering your teeth and lighting a whole city of hear inside your head. But if you made it to the top, he said, you were good. All that free air and seeing. The streets below suddenly patterns you could read.

A great lookout, my brother told me. One of the best in the neighbourhood, but step badly on a line, touch your hand to the wrong metal part while you’re brushing up against another, and you’d burn. Hang scarecrow-stiff and smoking in the air, dead black sight for all. “You want to go out like that?” he asked. So when you climbed, he said, you had to go careful. You had to watch your older brother and follow close his moves. You had to think back on every step before you took it. Remembering hard the whole way up.

He taught me that, my older brother. Memory’s got nothing to do with the old and grey and faraway gone. Memory’s the muscle sting of now. A kid reaching brave in the skull hum of power.

“And if you can’t memory right,” he said, “you lose.”

This has been a notable book on a number of lists now – being nominated and winning numerous awards and the book that the London (Ontario) Public Library is encouraging its members to read right now. (Link to the One Book, One London webpage hosted by the London Public Library). This is a book that gives one pause to consider urban angst and poverty in ways most people may not understand. Readers are vaulted into the lives of Michael and his older brother Francis. They are both trying to come to terms with their Trinidadian heritage while living on the outskirts of a major urban centre. They deal with a barrage of prejudices and “low expectations” because of who they are and the colour of their skin.

Pages 46-47

“A girl,” said Mother, as if to herself, “A sleeping child.”

Since witnessing Anton get shot, Francis had been a zombie, his eyes glazed and evasive. But Mother’s words appeared to shake him awake. For a second he met my eyes, but then dropped his. Mother was now staring at him.

The cops reassured her that we were not under investigation. Already there were leads on the names and whereabouts of the suspects, but since we had been in the vicinity of the shooting, they might want to interview us as the case developed. They voiced concerns about Francis’s connections to some of the suspects. Mother nodded and said twice that her boys would cooperate fully. The cops encouraged her, also, to get in touch if she felt she could offer any relevant information. It would all be anonymous, they insisted. Our identities would be protected.

“We will cooperate,” said Mother again. “We promise. Thank you, officers.”

She continued thanking them as they walked away. And then she held the door open for Francis and me to go inside. She shut the door very carefully behind us and took her time letting go of the handle. She seemed to muster all of the energy in her body just to face us.

“You will . . . tell me . . . everything,” she said.

Chariandy has a direct style here but the book gives a vivid description of a life of a young urban man trying to find his place in a cruel world.  It is a small volume of a book but deserves complete attention by any serious reader. The settings he describes alone are so true and feel so alone. This is a must read for any person who believes in the power of literary empathy.

Pages 90-91

Jelly must sense my wariness towards him, because shortly after the tea, he leaves without a word. Through the window, I see him pass Mrs. Henry, who stops to stare before shaking her head and muttering something disapproving to the invisible congregation of souls forever accompanying her. If Jelly can hear the rebuke, he very wisely doesn’t respond and continues walking down the avenue. He’s taken his backpack, and for a moment I wonder if he’s left for good. Should we have tried to talk? Ten years and not a single word between us. Should I at least have said goodbye? I feel more relief than guilt. But in a couple of hours he returns with his backpack full, as well as two plastic bags of groceries in his hands. And there’s another surprise.

He can cook.

He moves fluently through the inexpensive ingredients he’s bought, bags of vegetables as well as dried peas, rice little containers of seasonings he produces from his backpack. He chops like a chef, the sharp steel edge loud and quick upon the wood. Soon he’s got the edge loud and quick upon the wood. Soon he’s got the entire kitchen in chaos, no free space on the counters, all stove elements on. Mother has begun to pitch in too, and she sorts dried peas at the kitchen table, dropping them into a ceramic bowl with the sound of small pebbles. Even Aisha is participating, fetching pots and pans, washing vegetables in a big colander at the sink.

Brother by David Chariandy is a novel that gives definitions to many of the social ills we hear about. It is not only a book that should be read or pondered over but discussed in great detail. In any case a great piece of literature worthy of it’s many accolades.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for Brother

Link to the London (Ontario, Canada) Public Library’s website for the One Book One London project

Link to my review of David Chariandy’s previous book Soucouyant

 

A Noble Gift I was Touched to Receive | Mention of “The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011” by Michael Harris (2017) The Porcupine’s Quill

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

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We all receive numerous gifts throughout the year but the ones that have true meaning are the ones that are carefully crafted  so they become treasured items.  Recently I received a copy of The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011 by Michael Harris from the dedicated publishing firm of The Porcupine’s Quill. And it will become a loved item for my personal library shelf.

Work (Excerpt) – Page 157

My seven-year-old fishing

for the first time, in the murk, perfect

pike somewhere else, not here. The

mobile rings, his mum asking

everything OK? Better take some

chicken out for supper. Poems somewhere,

and rainbows. Rainbows!

I received this volume in the mail on a Friday and spent a lot of my leisure time over the following weekend with it. I love Harris’ expressive prose and lyricism in this collection. It was a warm and enveloping feeling to read a phrase that he has crafted and then come to the realization that I had been in a similar situation or had a similar feeling that he had been describing in his works. I found myself repeating phrases out loud because they were such vivid expressions that I could relate to.

The Patient – Page 15

I am here and afraid; my body

scooped out and laid in thin

rubber. the tubes like thermometers

in my body’s weather; they fill me

 

with bread pale as clean cotton.

I reduce it, reduce everything

to liquids in what’s left of my stomach,

in what’s left of my mind.

 

In the softest, quietest ways I am broken

into parts; one a day, once a day, they

come and play with me, with red sacs

and white sacs and murmurings and measurements.

 

They clean me like a fingernail

where the quick starts to sting

and they will not stop.

The Porcupine’s Quill in Erin, Ontario, Canada always publishes such detailed works with dedication and clarity that it is a pleasure for any book fan to pick up one of their works and slip away from the world in an intellectual fashion. Their stock is always of highest grade and any illustrations they use are detailed and well-thought out.

The Watchmender, Paros – Page 83

Something’s broken,

and they don’t know what.

These are the watches

their grandfathers brought –

the springs so thin now

they’d snap at his touch:

and they expect them fixed.

 

Under the small shop lamp,

his two differing eyes work hard

against each other: the clear one

fastened to his optic lens –

the wayward other, wandering with disuse,

dimly taking in the villagers

whose shadow pass his window,

or stand before him, waiting.

 

He bends like a priest

by the deathbed candle,

to attend to the useless glow

of jewels sunk deep

in almost-dead works,

like rosaries of stars

that won’t wear out.

The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011 by Michael Harris was a truly remarkable and touching gift I received from The Porcupine’s Quill. Harris’ words and well-crafted and expressive and the book is printed on wonderful stock. It is an item I will cherish and keep.

*****

Link to The Porcupine`s Quill website for The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011

A Bit of a Laugh, A Bit of a Think |Review of Will Ferguson’s “The Shoe on the Roof” (2017) Simon and Schuster Canada

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For many of us who read, we have to admit we have problems grasping the way the world around us works. Is there something wrong with our minds when we do something foolish or make people around us shake their heads? And when everything in our lives – relationships, jobs, family, health – seems to build into one unsurmountable crisis after another, do we hang our hang our heads and surrender to the evils of the world. Or do we read in order to better understand ourselves and try to deal with those issues.  Of course we do. But what happens when we encounter a novel in which the plot makes us truly question our take on the reality of our realities? Hmmm. So how should we really take Will Ferguson’s The Shoe on the Roof?

Page 3 Chapter One

The one almighty fact about love affairs is that they end. How they end and why, although of crucial interest – indeed, agony – the participants, is less important than that they end. Marriages might linger like a chest cold, and there are friendships that plod along simply because we forget to cancel the subscription. But when love affairs collapse, they do so suddenly: they drop like swollen mangoes, they shatter like saucers, they drown in the undertow, they fall apart like a wasp’s nest in winter. They end.

Thomas knew this, and yet . . .

Will Ferguson’s prose always seems to have these elements of profound thoughts that all-of-a-sudden end with phrase that comes across like a dull thud. And this book is filled with such sections. The story deals with Thomas Rosanoff. He spent his younger life as a test subject for his father’s psychiatric tests which was the subject for a best-selling book. Now younger Thomas tries to escape that shadow that being ‘the boy in the box’ by trying his own hand at medical studies. But when his girlfriend ends their relationship, he decides to try his own hand at researching cures by bring in three homeless men who claim they are the living embodiment of Jesus Christ. But as things slide further and further into chaos for poor Thomas, he finds he must not only clean up the mess he has created but also deal with the voices inside his own head.

Pages 109-110 Chapter Seventeen

Is identity immutable? Or is it malleable? Is it transitory and temporary – something to be donned or discarded at whim – or is it woven into our DNA? Does it even exist? Perhaps identity is simply an agreed-upon fiction, a conglomerate of traits.

Thomas knew full well that the defining characteristic of our interconnected online age isn’t anonymity but reinvention. You don’t cloak who you are: you change who you are. In the either/or of binary equations, you can hide in plain sight, can dress yourself in layers: a dance of the seven veils in reverse. You can even claim the identity of someone else entirely. Your father`s say.

Two weeks, top. That was how much time Thomas figured he would need. A provisional custody order (one month, on review) would be more that sufficient. How much time do you need to jolt someone out of a falsely held identity?

He was equally sure that the request would go through without a ripple. Why wouldn’t it? It wasn’t as though people were constantly stealing mental patients. Far from it. Hospitals were always looking for people to take custody of intractable cases – family, relatives, halfway homes, community groups. It was a matter of paperwork, of filling in the right forms, clicking on the right boxes. No one would step back to look at the larger picture. No one would ask why a patient was being released into the care of one Thomas Aaron Ronsanoff.

Like Ferguson’s previous works, there are moments of profound insights while chaos and hilarity ensues. There are no deep truths however, more of a realization and a matter-of-fact observations about the human condition. In short, of moments of ‘hmm’ and `ah-hah’ that a reader will note before a page is turned.

Page 360

Outside in the dusty heat of summer, a city bus rattled past smokestacks and warehouses, straining uphill and then fighting its own momentum on the way down. (He) was inside, dressed in factory blues, toolbox on his lap.

The driver looked at him in the bus’s rearview mirror. “You seem familiar. Do I know you?”

“Maybe,” (He) said softly. “I used to be somebody.”

And the bus trundled into the haze.

But there is a serious note of truth in this fiction. The scenes have a sense of familiarity to them as do many of the situations that poor Thomas finds himself in. This is a good read for sure. One that makes anybody laugh and think at almost the same time.

Page 369 Acknowledgements

This book began with a story my mother told me. My mom, Lorna Louse Bell, worked as a psychiatric nurse at the Weyburn Mental Hospital in the 1950s under Dr.Humphry Osmond. She often spoke about her time at Weyburn and the stories she shared with us were, by turn unsettling, heartbreaking, occasionally uplifting, and at times inspiring . . . Although inspired by these stories, The Shoe on the Roof remains a work of fiction.

So I have to admit that Will Ferguson’s The Shoe on the Roof is certainly a unique and enjoyable read. Like Ferguson’s previous work there are certainly moments of profound insights followed by serious, simple thuds of truths. In short, a good read.

*****

Link to Simon and Schuster Canada’s website for The Shoe of the Roof

Link to Will Ferguson`s website

Learning that a “Place” shapes our Identity as well |Review of “The Lightkeeper’s Daughters (2017) Harper Avenue

Jean E. Pendziwol will be appearing at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

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‘Place’ plays an important element in our identities. Where we are from and how we were raised in those surroundings play important parts to our personalities. Yet sometimes we forget where we came from and wonder why we feel so ‘lost’ in our modern-day lives. And that is the theme that Jean E. Pendziwol explores in her novel The Lightkeeper’s Daughters.

Page 10-11 Morgan

“All right.” Ms. Campbell sighs, extending the folder in her hand. “You’re Morgan Fletcher,” she removes her glasses and places them on the desk. “I see.”

I know what she sees. She sees what she wants to. She sees my straight black hair, dyed so that it shines like midnight. She sees dark kohl circling my gray eyes, my tight jeans and high black boots and the row of silver studs along my earlobes. She sees my pale face that I’ve made even paler, and my bright red lips. She doesn’t see that I am, maybe just a little scared. I won’t let her see that.

I slouch back into the chair, and cross my legs. So that’s how it’s going to be. Fine.

Ms. Campbell opens the folder. “Well, Morgan, community hours, is it? I says here that you have agreed to clean up the graffiti and assist with further maintenance work under the direction of our maintenance supervisor.” She looks at me again. “You’ll be here every Tuesday and Thursday right after school for the next four weeks.”

“Yup.” I tap my toe against the front of the desk and look at my fingernails. They are painted red, like my lips. Blood red.

“I see,” she says. Again. Ms. Campbell pauses for a moment, and I can tell that she is studying me. I know what’s in that folder. I don’t want her judgement. Worse, I don’t want her pity. I shift my gaze to a spider plant on the top of the filing cabinet. She sighs again. “Well, then I guess we`d better get you introduce to Marty.” She leaves the folder containing my past on her desk, and I have no choice; I follow her down the hall.

This is Pendziwol’s first novel and has become one of my favourite’s of the 2017 publishing season. She does two things in a work of fiction that I enjoy  – uses a lyrical style that helps the plot flow AND documents an element of a human condition that conveys a feeling we all endure; wondering who we are and where we come from. The plot weaves between two main characters. Morgan, who is a teenage, angst-ridden, and confused young woman and Elizabeth, a blind, elderly resident of a nursing room. As the two meet and converse, they find out they both have a common history descending from a family who were lighthouse keepers on a series of islands in Lake Superior. Each chapter is told through one of the two women as they slowly learn elements of their common family history.

Pages 76-77 Elizabeth

They stay only about half an hour, and then the nuggets find a resting place in the garbage pail beside the sofa, the latest toy is dropped into the Hello Kitty backpack, and Mr. Androsky is wheeled back to his room, slurping up the last few sips of milk shake. It is a ritual I dismissingly tolerate, but secretly envy.

I have no family to come visit me. No weekly offerings of barely digestible fast food, no cards on my birthday, no one asking if I am well that week or need anything. It is only when I hover on the periphery of Mr. Androsky`s life that it occurs to me that I am missing something. Emily was my life. Yes, there was Charlie, too, for a time. But I could not bring myself to reach out to him. I could not forgive his misguided actions or contemplate an apology from him, should he even wanted to provide one. And I could not be sorry for those things that he would not forgive. So we lived in mutual exile from each other.  He was never acknowledged, never present, but always a shadow that hovered just beyond our existence. We had been so close, the three of us; he our champion and we his adoring followers. But darkness swallowed us, and when I had to choose,  I chose Emily.

This is one of those books I would recommend a person takes a few minutes at the end of a busy day to sit down with and ponder over. While it is a lyrical read, the prose is also simple and elegant. Pendziwol is also able to capture the speech patterns of each of her protagonists here perfectly. A reader can clearly grasp both what young Morgan or elderly Elizabeth are thinking and desiring. Empathy comes easily with the well-crafted phrases Pendziwol uses here.

Page 274 Elizabeth

I stand beneath the shower, hands gripping the chrome bars fastened to the tile walls. Water rains down, trickling like a thousand streams across my body. I close my eyes and lift my head, allowing the drops to flood my face and mold my hair until it hangs, sleek and thick, a snowy river dripping puddles that collect at my feet and disappear down the drain in the floor. I can feel the wolf, prowling. He is becoming more persistent, visiting almost daily now. He is patient. He sits, watching, waiting. I wipe my eyes, but they fill as quickly, and I don’t bother clearing them again. I reach out a hand, exploring the wall until I find the tap and turn it fully it fully to the right. I gasp when the cold water stabs at me, as cold as the Lake. My eyes flash open at the shock, but still they see nothing. My skin prickles. My pulse quickens.

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol is certainly one of my favourite reads of the 2017 season. It is emotional and lyrical and enlightening. Certainly a great piece of literature and hopefully not one of the last of novels from this author.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada page for The Lightkeeper’s Daughters

Link to Jean E. Pendziwol`s website

Link to my Q&A with Jean E. Pendziwol – “Place plays an important role in most of my work and I like to bring my readers here, to my home, through my words.”

Updating the Concept of the ‘Immigrant Experience’|Review of “Soucouyant” by David Chariandy (2007) Arsenal Pulp Press

David Chariandy will be participating at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

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For many of us who descend from immigrant backgrounds, we had to deal with a lot more baggage than the label of “multiculturalism” can truly define our families. We had to deal with: racism, ethnic traditions and stereotypes, untold stories and whispers of events that our elders may not what us to know about, etc. etc. Those hardships become more acute as our parents become older and depend on our care for their well-being. And it is that element of the human condition that David Chariandy documents in his novel Soucouyant.

Page 9

I stay with Mother, though I haven’t truly been invited to stay. On that first evening of my return, Mother walks suddenly out of the kitchen and up the stairs to her bedroom on the second floor. I hear the low grate of a deadbolt. later, i make my way up to the other bedroom on the second floor. The bunk bed that I once shared with my brother is still made, though the sheets and pillows smell of dampness.

My bedroom window looks out over the weathered edge of the bluffs to a great lake touched by the dying light of the city. Below, some forty feet down, a few trees lean about on a shore of sand and waterlogged litter. Dancing leaves and the tumble of an empty potato chip bag. Despite the view and the fact that many consider the surrounding neighbourhood ‘a good part of Scarborough,’ our place is difficult to boast of. We are alone in a cul-de-sac once used as a dump for real-estate developers. The house is old and bracing now for the final assaults of erosion. Even in summer, all windows facing south are kept shut. Because of the railway track, scarcely ten feet away.

Chariandy has written an insightful bit of literature here. Readers glide into the thoughts of a son who returns after a two-year absence to his Caribbean-born mother suffering from dementia. Upon his arrival at his childhood home, he not only finds the easily-confused individual who is his mother but also a young woman who also occupies the house. As the son continues his stay at the home, he is forced to confront memories and hidden secrets of his mother and his family.

Pages 47-48

Please, Mother. Please.

There are the ironies, of course. Mother can string together a litany of names and places from the distant past. She can remember the countless varieties of a fruit that doesn’t even grow in this land, but she can’t accomplish the most everyday of tasks. She can’t dress herself or remember to turn off taps and lights. Increasingly, she can’t even remember the meaning of the word ‘on,’ or the function of a toothbrush, or the simple fact that a waste-paper basket isn’t a toilet.

‘It happen . . .’ she tries again. ‘It happen on fore-day morning when the sun just a stain on the sky. When the moon not under as yet. Me, I was a young girl running . . .’

‘I know, Mother. It doesn’t matter. You’re here now.’

‘You’re here now . . .?’

‘You arrived, Mother. You told me the story, remember? There were lights . . .’

She had trouble arriving. The plane banked around the airport for almost an hour and the pilot had announced that an ice storm was hitting the city and the ground crews were clearing the runway. An ice storm, she thought. What on earth could that be like? What fearsome beauty, falling jewels of ice? When the plane banked a last time for the approach, she looked out of the wind to see the city once more. No buildings at all, only countless dazzling lights. A land of lights.

She came here as a domestic, through a scheme that offered landed status to single women from the Caribbean after a year of household work. This was in the early sixties, before the complexion of the cities and suburbs of this land looked anything like it does today. The administrators of the domestic scheme set her up in a small apartment above a building housing a butcher’s shop and a Negro hair-cutting salon, hope that she would feel at home., realizing that no other person would be willing to put her up. It was smelly and the cockroaches ran and ran when the overhead bulb was turned on, but she didn’t mind. Everything seemed wonderful to her, even the scraggly trees and slushy sidewalks. The snow-accented trees.

The snow.

While the details that Chariandy documents in the story are unique to immigrants from the Caribbean region, the experiences his Canadian-born and residing protagonist endures are universal to any descendant of any immigrant of any background. The attempts of trying to fit into the mainstream society, the questions of past experiences of one’s parents, the embarrassment of old mores and customs from an old culture that no longer fit in our modern society. And Chariandy documents the situation of a child trying to deal with an elderly parent whose actions are not proper in any situation.

Page 83

Later in the evening, I stumble upon her in the kitchen spilling sugar from a large sack over wedges of lemon and then eating away, rind and all. There’s a grainy stickiness all over the linoleum and white streaks on the rug leading out of the kitchen. Mother winces with each of her mouthfuls. ‘Like eating lightning,’ she says. She looks at the leaking bag of sugar and explains it is broken would some please call the  . . . electrician. She insists that the whole house deserves a good sweeping, and starts calling for the girl to give her a bath.

‘I can bathe you.’

You can . . .?’

‘I can do it too. I’m your son.’

She nods warily at this. I accept the bag of sugar from her and guide her upstairs to the bathroom. I make sure the water in the tub is just right, and I add the salts. I help her out of her clothes, her hands balancing on my shoulders while I slip her underwear off. Her private skin so pale and unwrinkled, even childlike. Her elbows pressed tight against her sides.

‘Don’t get my head wet,’ she says.

David Chariandy has documented an important and delicate element about the human condition in his novel Soucouyant. The book is lyrically and well-crafted and is certainly a great read. One worthy of any serious reader’s time and thoughts.

*****

Link to Arsenal Pulp Press’ website for Soucouyant

Link to a page on Wikipedia about David Chariandy

Link to Penguin/Random House Canada’s website for Brother –  David Chariandy’s newest book – to be released on Sept. 26, 2017.

 

 

Reflecting on the Ties We Bind | Review of “Little Sister” by Barbara Gowdy (2017) Patrick Crean Editions

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There always seems to be a magical and unexplainable bond between people at times. Be it friends, family members or even total strangers, we seem attracted to certain people so much that we are able to sense their thoughts and emotions without even saying a word out loud. And it is that sense of connectivity with certain individuals that Barbara Gowdy has her characters explore in her book Little Sister.

Page 6

Her nose bled.

She overreached the Kleenex and had to steer her hand back. An aftermath of misery clung to her, and she let herself cry a bit. She must have fallen asleep, except the precise, mundane details, not just the spider and the skirt but also her cold fingers, her childish grip on the pen, the background noises – that whole ordinary, filled-in world and its myriad sensations –  had felt as real as this, only (she looked around) in much clearer focus.

Harriet? Who was Harriet? Rose had never before dreamed that she was someone else. Or inside someone else. Yes, inside more accurately described the feeling of visiting, as opposed to having, the woman’s body. She sniffed her empty coffee cup and thought of their new employee, Lloyd, the former drug dealer.

Gowdy has given us readers something profound and unique to ponder over with her protagonist Rose Bowan. Every time a thunderstorm hits, Rose loses consciousness and has visions inhabiting another woman’s body. And while inside that body, Rose witnesses actions and emotions of ‘Harriet’, a professional woman who’s life is about upended by a pregnancy due to a affair with a married co-worker. And while Rose is encased by Harriet’s life and emotions, she begins to ponder her own relationships – a boyfriend, a mother with dementia, a sister who mysterious passed away years ago. It is through Rose’s eyes and thoughts, readers are given ground to carefully consider their own relationships in their lives.

Page 143-144

Ava’s papier-mâché parrot, Tobikumu, gazed sightlessly toward the window. He had been a Christmas present from a great-uncle who had lived for several years in Tokyo. Rose had gotten Kazuyuki, a delicate papier-mâché cellist with elongated fingers resting on fine strings that might have been dental floss. One day she had taken him to the house of a new Japanese friend, and there, within five minutes, the friend’s poodle had town him to confetti.

Under Ava’s care, Tobikumu, the parrot, stayed perfect. Under Rose’s he lost his glass eyes. She put him on her bedside table so that before falling asleep she could look at his sockets and recover the guilt she’d shed during the day, in those moments when she’d been lighthearted or animated or – the most bewildering offence – pleased with herself. She thought of the guilt as survivor’s guilt, and of survivor’s guilt as a guilt necessary for survival. Tobikumu was her victim and accuser both. She counted on him to get her to cry herself to sleep.

She cried secretly, in near silence. Still, her parents saw her misery and sent her to a child psychologist, an old woman who was half deaf and therefore needed to sit next to Rose on the sofa. Rose didn’t mind. Dr. Grewal’s baked-bread grandmotherly smell and her cracked brown face like dried mud were unthreatening and a little heartbreaking. She spoke in a soft, accented voice. She had a tendency to repeat Rose’s answers, for both their sakes, Rose understood, in order that Rose might hear them said back to her, and that Dr. Grewal might verify she’d heard them correctly. Rose never mentioned Tobikumu, and when the subject came around to Ava, she said what any normal girl getting better would say: Yes, I’m still sad. No, not as sad as I was. Yes, I understand it wasn’t my fault. Mostly the dwelt on Rose’s present circumstance, her friends and school, her shyness. To distract Dr. Grewal from asking about Ava, Rose mad her shyness sound like a more serious problem than it was. Year after year, as Dr. Grewal’s deafness worsened and she sat ever closer, Rose offed up the minor troubles and triumphs of her week.

Gowdy’s writing style has a direct feel to it. The story is not filled with excess descriptions or extra phrases. Readers are thrust into Rose’s train of thoughts or paths of actions without being given any room for second guessing or looking back. Readers are stuck following Rose’s life like poor Rose is stuck observing Harriet’s life during one of her trances.

Page 152

She would never love him, but she wanted him to love her. The man you were with was supposed to love you. Besides, he had loved his wife and often told her so.

Then one morning she stopped caring whether he loved her or not. She went to sleep caring and woke up asking herself, what am I doing? Apart from the strain of listening to his countless specific and indefinite resentments, there was the fact that he preferred to see her mid-morning, during those hours when, normally, she would be having breakfast and doing household chores. But how do you break up with a lonely, recent-immigrant widower?

Barbara Gowdy has certainly given us readers some considerations in regards to our relationships as we read Little Sister. The plot is matter-of-fact and direct, and  it is certainly one that is worthy of reflecting on.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s website for Little Sister

Link to Barbara Gowdy’s website

 

 

(T)he novel is about a young woman who learns to draw on inner strength she didn’t know she had to overcome dramatic challenges on her journey to adulthood. | Q&A with author Catherine Graham on her first novel “Quarry.”

Quarry Cover from Natalie jpeg

 

Catherine Graham’s poetry has won numerous awards and garnished huge praises from all sorts. Now Graham has turned her skilled craft towards a novel, something many people have been eagerly talking about in many of my circles. Graham was kind enough to answer a few questions about her first novel “Quarry.”

*****
1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “Quarry.”

It’s a fictional account of what an introverted young woman discovers about herself on a journey that starts with an idyllic upbringing with her parents in a house beside a water-filled limestone quarry and moves through tragic loss, love and the family secrets that emerge.

2) This is your first published novel. Was there much of a ‘jump’ for you from writing poetry to writing a novel?

Yes and no. The imagery that powers my poetry is still present in the novel, but writing prose has so many more opportunities for detail and well, completeness. Some readers of early novel drafts were also fans of my poetry and I wasn’t sure how they’d like the book. Thankfully the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. I think I was able to find the right balance between the lyricism of poetry and the narrative form demanded by long prose.

3) Was there something specific that inspired you to write this novel?

Ultimately, the novel is about a young woman who learns to draw on inner strength she didn’t know she had to overcome dramatic challenges on her journey to adulthood. Those who know me will see parallels with my own life, but Caitlin Maharg’s story is not mine, nor is mine hers. So I guess you could say the inspiration for the novel has been with me forever.

4) “Two Wolves Press” seems like a unique publishing house. How did you get involved with them?

Alexandra Leggat is a fellow instructor at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. She started Two Wolves Press with a fiercely independent desire to publish a few carefully curated books each year that would bring fresh voices to the Canadian literary scene. Having Two Wolves pick up Quarry for publication was a match made in heaven. I loved Two Wolves’ approach to publishing and thankfully, Alexandra loved Quarry. (Link to Two Wolves Press Blogspot site)

5) Are you planning any public readings/discussions of “Quarry?” If yes, any specific dates that you are excited to be partaking in?

The novel launches June 1 at The Tranzac Club in Toronto.  IFOA and Two Wolves Press have partnered up for the event as part of the Toronto Lit Up book launch series (Link to the event’s website here). After a short reading, Mary Lou Finlay, radio and television journalist, will interview me on stage. There will also be music from the soundtrack of the novel and other special features. Then on June 4, I’ll be doing a Q & A at the Calgary Memorial Library as part of Spur Festival Calgary. (Link to event’s website here)

I’m thrilled to be partaking in both events and all are welcome to attend. I’m also looking forward to reading in the UK this August as part of The Shaken and the Stirred group—readings in London, Manchester, Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Link here), Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Belfast’s Linen Hall Library and Bangor’s Open House Festival.

6) You mentioned in a past Q&A a few years ago that you just signed on to Twitter. And you have an active role on Facebook. How do you like using social media in relation to your writing?

It’s interesting you should ask. Social media was a bit of a foreign landscape to me at first, but it’s actually more fun than I thought it would be. To that end, I’ll be making some exciting changes to my social media presence in the near future, so stay tuned to the website (www.catherinegraham.com), Twitter (@catgrahmpoet) and Instagram (catgrahampoet) to see what’s cooking.

7) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

Right now, I’m focused on making sure people enjoy the novel launch and know where they can get a copy of the book (Ben McNally’s Bookstore in Toronto (Link here) and Shopify (Link here).

But regardless of how busy I am, scribbled ideas always seem to be appearing in my notebook, so in a way, you could say I’m already at work on the next novel. Or poetry collection. Or something. Speaking of poetry, my seventh collection, The Celery Forest, will appear this fall with Wolsak & Wynn. (Link to their website)

Author Bio:
Catherine Graham is the author of five acclaimed poetry collections. Her most recent collection, Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects, was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award and CAA Poetry Award. Winner of the IFOA’s Poetry NOW competition, she teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto where she won an Excellence in Teaching Award. Her work is anthologized in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol IV & V, The White Page/An Bhileog Bhan: Twentieth Century Irish Women Poets and has appeared in The Malahat Review, Gutter Magazine (Scotland), Poetry Daily (USA), The Glasgow Review of Books, Poetry Ireland Review, The Ulster Tatler, The Fiddlehead, LRC, Southword Journal (Ireland), CBC Books and elsewhere. International reading venues include Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 and 2017, University of Westminster, Bowery Poetry Club NYC, International Anthony Burgess Foundation (Manchester), 4th International Congress of Language and Literature Linares (Mexico), Seamus Heaney HomePlace (Northern Ireland) and the Thessaloniki International Book Fair (Greece). She publishes two books in 2017, her sixth poetry collection, The Celery Forest, and her debut novel, Quarry. Visit her at www.catherinegraham.com.

*****
Link to Catherine Graham’s website

Link to Two Wolves Press Blogspot site

“(W)e have the privilege of listening to the worst crimes on the news for twenty minutes, then shutting it off and thinking about getting new shoes or what to make for dinner for the next hour. But shouldn’t fiction go deeper, explore the hard parts?” | Q&A with author Rebecca Rosenblum on her new novel So Much Love

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Image linked from the author’s website

It is always a thrill for me to talk about a writer who has honed their craft through a collection of short stories who finally releases a complete novel. And Rebecca Rosenblum is such a writer. She brilliantly documented elements of human condition in her short story collections such as The Big Dream (Link to my review) and Once (Review coming shortly). Now her first complete novel So Much Love is out and should be a stunning read as well. Rosenblum took some time out from a busy book tour to answer a few questions for me.

*****

First off, could you give a bit of an overview of So Much Love?

The main story in So Much Love is about a young woman named Catherine Reindeer who goes missing and, first, what those who knew her go through in her absence also what happens to Catherine herself. But there’s also a thread woven through about a poet Catherine admires, Julianna Ohlin, dead many years, and what her life amounted to, or how Catherine imagines her. That’s a lot of different stories, because the people who miss Catherine each get their own voices and experiences and so does Julianna and the people in her world. That is how I like to experience the world—lots of different viewpoints, as a way to piecing together my own. In the end, with careful editing, I think Catherine’s powerful conclusion.

2) Was there anything specific that inspired you to write this book? Is there anything you are hoping to accomplish with So Much Love?

I was interested in the way that, first, female artists are often conflated with their biographies. This happens to men too, of course, but it seems much stronger with women. Even in an academic context, a woman’s art is indivisible from her life, her suffering, her love affairs in a way that I don’t think would be conceive able for a man. I was also interested in the way that there’s a kind of style or genre of fiction where a crime forms that backdrop, and much more mundane dramas form the main action. In truth, that is the way many of us live our lives, and thank goodness—we have the privilege of listening to the worst crimes on the news for twenty minutes, then shutting it off and thinking about getting new shoes or what to make for dinner for the next hour. But shouldn’t fiction go deeper, explore the hard parts?

3) According to your website, your previous books have been collections of short stories. Was it a major difference to now write a complete narrative for one book? How long did it take to write So Much Love?

Yes, I found it very challenging, and I had a lot of help. I took earlier runs at writing this novel—one starting in 2000 and one in 2004, but I just didn’t yet have the writing chops to make it through this complicated and challenging story. Then after graduate school in creative writing and two collections, working with an excellent editor (the rightly revered John Metcalf), I started again in 2011 and was able to get all the way through, after a fashion, though at that point the book was linked short stories. When McClelland & Stewart bought the book, my editor Anita Chong asked me if I was willing to edit it into a novel and I said yes—that was what I had wanted all along, I just couldn’t make it work. It took more than two years and I lot of blood, sweat and tears from both of us—along with over 30 000 added words—but we did it!

4) Are you planning any public readings of So Much Love? If yes, are there any dates/events you are excited to be participating in?

I’m actually typing this in Vancouver, and will be reading tonight at the Vancouver Public Library as part of the Incite series presented by the Vancouver Writers Festival. But by the time this gets posted I’ll probably be looking forward to my reading at Pivot at the Steady April 19 (Link here), which is going to be super fun, and then on April 22 I’ll be reading at the Making Room launch party in Toronto for an anthology that celebrates 40 years of Room magazine (Facebook link here)

5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you can share?

When I finally signed off on the last version of So Much Love, I did get started on a new project that I’ve been thinking about for a while—a father-daughter novel that takes place over many years. I enjoyed working on it, as the book is more light-hearted than So Much Love but still with some darker themes, but I had to put it aside first for some personal problems and then for the promotional work on So Much Love. I’m really looking forward to getting back to it when the excitement dies down, though.

6) You seem to have an active profile on Facebook. Many of my followers always want to know what is the best way to keep up to date with their favourite writers (New works, events, etc.) . Are you using Facebook for that regard? Do you have any plans to expand your social-media presence to something like Twitter or Google Plus?

I think the best way to find out about new work, events, and publications from me would probably be my twitter account, (Link to her Twitter account here) or my website/blog, www.rebeccarosenblum.com My Facebook and Instagram accounts both have a lot of personal stuff mixed in—unless you care a lot about cats, things I ate, and pictures of my husband, those would be less of interest. I never made the leap to Google Plus and now I hear it is shutting down so I guess I never will.

7) Your biography has you listed as living in Toronto. How do you like living there? Are there any specific cultural institutions or events there that inspire you as a writer?

It took me while but now I love Toronto so much I can’t imagine ever leaving. A lot of that has to do with people, though—my friends, my family, some of my in-laws, and a lot of the literary community that I know are there. But there is also so much good stuff—from the Jays to Allan Gardens to the ROM to Bluffs—that I adore in Toronto. I love just walking down the street and looking at stores, and I know so many people I pretty often run into someone I know. I have lived there 15 years and despite the challenges, I feel truly at home there. I did my masters in creative writing at University of Toronto and that is just a gorgeous campus. I loved getting my degree there but I know others have legit complaints; however, no one could dispute the loveliness of the St. George campus. I’m still happy to hang out at Hart House or one of the libraries if I have a writing day and feel like getting out of the house.

******

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for So Much Love

Detailing the Angst of the Workplace | Review of “The Big Dream” by Rebecca Rosenblum (2011) Biblioasis

9781926845289-cover_

The beauty of a good book is that it captures the complexities of real life that we readers endure in a simple manner. We want to see our world told through the eyes of others in order to better understand ourselves. We all endure the complex dynamics of a workplace – the interactions of co-workers, the placements of our desks, the failings of equipment, etc – yet we feel alone in our frustrations.  But, alas, we aren’t. Rebecca Rosenblum has given our workplace angst some references points in her book The Big Dream.

Page 9 – Dream Big

The cafeteria was closed for renovations and the temporary lunchroom was in the basement. In fact, the temporary lunchroom was actually a meeting room with tables, folding chairs, a microwave, four vending machines, and no windows. Many employees chose to eat at their desks, but some made use of the room.

Clint peeled the plastic off his Crackerz’n’chese.

Cheze does not look like an English word.” said Anna. She was eating unstirred fruit-at-the-bottom yoghurt.

“Still delicious.” Luddock was eating a mustard-soaked sandwich. The sheer yellow bread revealed the pink of bologna.

“Of course.” Anna reached the fruit layer and beamed into her plastic cup.

“Listen -” Clint leaned forward “Remember, last Tuesday -?”

“No!” Luddock waved his sandwich. Bread flapped away from meat. “I download all previous-week memories to the main server at midnight on Saturdays. Frees up disc space for current work.”

“Luddock, no!” Anna squawked, mouth full of pureed berries. “This is not a Tech Support situation. Do not make Tech jokes.

“Actually, only Tech is sitting at this table.”

“Lunch is our own time. We could be sitting with another department, people who don’t even work  here. We shouldn’t make this a closed conversation.”

This was one of those books that I just couldn’t put down. It felt like Rosenblum has captured a slice of my life in it. (And no doubt many of these experiences in this book must have come from real-life experience.) The book centres around the company Dream Inc. a somewhat tired and broken publishing firm. Rosenblum has exacted a series of stories around people who work in this company to show how the dynamic of this firm exists. And in doing so has reflected a true reality that many of us endure.

Page 132-133 Research

When Research got off the bus at 8:45 the next morning, there was a silver-blue airplane high above her head. It had a fish painted vertically on the tail, as if it was diving. the fish was blue, too, brighter than the plane. Brightest blue of all was the sky.

Indoors was mainly grey but the blue beamed in through the enormous window, which someone somehow had washed, inside and out.

She looked into the exact definition of teal, the blogs of MuchMusic VJs that her sons liked, the calorie content of chili, the average woman’s desired amount of oral sex versus experienced. She sent these facts to various editors at Dream Fashion, Dream Teen, Dream Woman. She stared out the window, The sky was a medium blue-green, more blue than green: teal.

She walked through the vast empty space between her desk and the window – even the other researchers’ desks had been removed now. She had always threaded through them like a rope through a grommet, and now there was too much space. She had liked her colleagues; everyone boiled extra water in case someone else wanted tea. She had no way of finding them now, out there in their real lives.

Back at her desk, Research found an enthusiastic email from Dream Woman regarding her facts about oral pleasure, requesting further research. The editor did not mention the chili information (surprisingly low fat).

Googling “techniques+cunnilingus” brought many suggestions, but they repeated from website to website, or even within one – “light feathery kisses to the inner thigh” seemed much the same as “light feathery kisses up and down the leg.” She wondered how else to reteach this, eyed the framed photo of her husband in his canoe, and sent off her report.

She boiled a single cup of water for tea. She ate her yoghurt early. She looked out the window at a helicopter rising, possibly carrying the executive team from an internet start-up with a bold innovation for something. She wanted to research using reality, not the Internet. She wanted to be good at her job and interesting to her family. She wanted to be someone who found job in more than just what her husband got up to with his tongue.

Rosenblum’s language is simple and frank which makes these stories so realistic and believable. There are terms which are well-known trademarks which gives the reader the true impression that they are witnessing something out of a real workplace. And Rosenblum’s explorations of thoughts and emotions are direct and true. Nothing here is held back or questioned. These stories truly feel like a slice of real life.

Page 144 – Loneliness

Theirs was a flirtation of short emails and patchy cellphone calls. Once, a birthday card curled into a FedEx tube. Once – and nervously – lunch alone together in the employee cafeteria. Cheese cannelloni and diet Coke for both. Except for that first surreptitious caress of a thigh, several too-lingering arm-squeezes, and once when he held her coat for her and she, reaching backwards, missed entirely and stroked her palm down the flat expanse of his belly – except for these moments, there had been no physical contact at all.

Privately, they cursed themselves for teenaged fantasies that could, doubtless lead only down alleys of frustration and masturbation. Desire only increases loneliness.

There had been moments of opportunity unrealized, when they were both perhaps stunned to realize their own limits. Both had attended a two-day trade show, sitting together at a particle-board demonstration, at a Kitchen of the Future demonstration, at an Ikea demonstration. They had sat together in the bar, and talked of the pets they had as children, animals now dead. They talked of their parents who were dead now, too, and how lonely it felt to walk the earth knowing their parents were dead. They talked about, or at least each somehow managed to mention, what their hotel room numbers were.

Rebecca Rosenblum has created a brilliant piece of literature with The Big Dream. This collection of insights into a workplace is bluntly honest and true. A great read and one that will create reflections and considerations.

*****

Link to Biblioasis’ website for The Big Dream

Link to Rebecca Rosenblum’s website